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Bellone: Fire Island 'has been devastated'

The ocean batters away at the beach near

The ocean batters away at the beach near Seaview on Fire Island. (Oct. 29, 2012) Credit: Lori Mattiasen

Fire Island, the popular summer resort along the vulnerable coast of the South Shore, "has been devastated" by the superstorm Sandy, the Suffolk County executive said Tuesday.

Eighty percent of the homes facing the ocean had been damaged to some extent, and a dozen were either destroyed or simply washed out to sea, County Executive Steve Bellone said.

"It will have changed in a number of ways," Bellone said, noting the seawater breached the island in four places.

One breach on the east end is so deep that it could create a new inlet, that would sever the island, said Chris Soller, superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore.

Soller said "these next tide cycles are going to tell the story" and there could be more breaches and change in geography. It's the worst storm to hit Fire Island since the 1938 hurricane dubbed the Long Island Express.

Floods swept through the barrier island's streets and structures, said Ocean Beach Fire Chief Ian Levine.

"It'll take years to rebuild everything," Levine said.

The Ocean Beach fire house was in two feet of water and the police station was flooded and abandoned by Tuesday morning; there were about 25 people taking shelter in the Woodhull School further inland. Ocean Beach had thigh-high water levels after enduring several washovers with at least one house washed away, Levine said.

In Atlantique, three or four houses were leaning against each other, at least one was rocked off its foundation and was floating around "banging into other houses," the fire chief said.

Authorities initially thought around 60 people rode out the storm on Fire Island, but it turned out be 120. All were accounted for, officials said.

Evacuated residents won't be allowed back to Fire Island until the weekend at least, Levine said.

Through the night elsewhere in Suffolk, families with babies and pets rode to safety on Babylon Town front-end loaders well after midnight as rescuers took them away from Sandy's flooding in Amity Harbor and Copiague.

"This was one of the hot spots," Bellone said as he traveled with rescue crews on Babylon's shores. "We had to have LIPA shut the grid down. There were 10-plus working fires going on at the same time. The phones exploded with people wanting to be evacuated."

Town spokesman Tim Ruggeri said first responders were rescuing residents stranded by floodwaters until 4 in the morning, and placed the blame on residents who refused to evacuate.

"This really taxes our first responders," he said. "Last night put us in a pretty severe situation, getting people out."

The night of dramatic rescues stretched on Tuesday as Long Island officials begin taking stock of fire, flood and wind damage in the light of day. It was the Island and New York City that took the brunt of Sandy's storm surge and high winds, which were unusually concentrated on the outer bands of the weather system instead of the eye of the cyclone.

In Nassau, County Executive Edward Mangano said more than 170 people had been rescued overnight, primarily coastal residents who tried to ride out Sandy and then got in trouble when high tide came.

A woman in labor, a heart attack victim, people in flooded homes -- the calls flooded 911, going from west to east as the tide moved along the coast, he said.

A dozen firefighters responding to a Massapequa home were stranded, along with the two residents in the house, when the waters rose too high for them to get out, Mangano said. They were rescued by the National Guard and police in "high axle" vehicles, he said.

Both Mangano and Bellone said several coastal communities in the north and south shores were flooded and urged residents to call 911 only in emergencies because rescuers had been inundated.

Fires cropped up all over the Island, stretching rescuers' limits, authorities said.

Trees coming down on wires, transformers blowing up and the wires going into the water sparked the blazes, Bellone said.

Two homes -- one in West Babylon and another in Lindenhurst -- "wouldn't stop burning" and had to be knocked down with payloaders, the county executive said.

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